Saturday, April 26, 2008

Royal Decoration for Prof. F. García Martínez

Date: April 25, 2008

Prof. F. García Martínez, professor of Religion and Literature of Early Judaism and Director of the Qumran Institute, has been made a Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion. García Martínez will receive his decoration during an international congress in honour of his retirement to be held in Groningen on 28 and 29 April 2008. The presentation, by Frank de Vries, Deputy Mayor of the municipality of Groningen, will take place on 29 April 2008 at 5 p.m. in the Aula of the Academy Building.

More on the symposium here and here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

City of David website wins global UN award
By Sharon Kanon (Israel21c)
April 24, 2008

Israel may have missed out at the Oscars in Hollywood, but an Israel website,, won first prize at the UN-sponsored World Summit Awards (WSA) in Venice recently.

Selected as "the best in e-content and creativity in the category of e-culture," "this outstanding website brings remote visitors face to face with the protagonists and locations of the living Bible," the WSA stated in its laudatory citation.

"Its fabulous visuals and rich description of the site - in English, Spanish, Hebrew, French and Russian - bring to life the only place on earth where the only guidebook needed is the Bible itself."

More than 167 countries competed in the contest, held every two years. The WSA was started in 2003, within the framework of the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

Ilan Dray, the young Israeli-French designer of the "cityofdavid" site, and his team at Inkod-Hypera, along with Udi Ragones, director of PR for Ir David, were invited to Venice to receive the prestigious award.

The "cityofdavid" website has also won the British FWA (Favorite Web Award).

Site Puts Ancient Hebrew Texts Online added two ancient book collections to its searchable archive of 15,000 Hebrew books and works of Judaica online.

By K.C. Jones
April 24, 2008 02:16 PM

More than 1,000 ancient Hebrew texts have been added to a free Web site,

The non-profit Society for the Preservation of Hebrew Books announced that it added two ancient book collections to the Friedberg-Ryzman collection of more than 15,000 Hebrew books and works of Judaica online. Technology companies Ligature and dtSearch helped to make the texts fully searchable in Hebrew.

One collection, loaned by the Chabad-Lubavitch Library in Brooklyn, N.Y., contains more than 1,000 Passover Haggadahs (tales of Jewish liberation from slavery). They come from all over the globe and some are from the Middle Ages.


The second collection includes 400 original works related to the scholar and physician Maimonides, also known as Rambam. They date back to the 12th century BCE and can be searched in the original text for the first time.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Biblical Scholars Challenge Pelosi's 'Scripture' Quote
By Pete Winn Senior Staff Writer
April 23, 2008

( - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is fond of quoting a particular passage of Scripture. The quote, however, does not appear in the Bible and is "fictional," according to biblical scholars.

In her April 22 Earth Day news release, Pelosi said, "The Bible tells us in the Old Testament, 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.' On this Earth Day, and every day, let us pledge to our children, and our children's children, that they will have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and the opportunity to experience the wonders of nature."

Cybercast News Service repeatedly queried the speaker's office for two days to determine where the alleged Bible quote is found. Thus far, no one has responded.

Distinguished biblical scholars, however, cast doubt on the existence of the passage.

Doesn't sound familiar to me either.

UPDATE: Iyov is defending Pelosi: Nancy Pelosi got the Bible right.

That's overstating it. She expresses an entirely laudable sentiment and there is some support for it in Jewish midrashic and halachic tradition that draws on biblical ideas, but the quotation is not in the Bible. The closest parallel seems to be Genesis 2:15, but Pelosi's quotation would at best be a somewhat anachronistic midrashic meditation on the verse. Taking care of the land (so human beings can benefit from it!) is generally taken as divine service in agricultural societies, but the modern gaia-oriented disinterested devotion to nature is, well, modern.

UPDATE (1 May): More here.
West Bank Samaritans mark Passover with blood and fire

MOUNT GERIZIM, West Bank (AFP) — Men chant in ancient Hebrew over the sheep, their white garments and knives lit by the fading dusk as they ready a sacrifice for the God of Israel in the heart of the West Bank.

The voice of the high priest crackles from a megaphone, the chanting reaches a climax and they wrestle dozens of animals to the ground, slitting their throats in a 5,000 year-old Passover ritual that may predate Judaism.

The faithful are Samaritans, a community of 710 people living in Israel and the occupied West Bank who trace their lineage to the ancient Israelites Moses led out of Egypt, an event they remember every year on a grassy hilltop near the Palestinian town of Nablus.

There are photographs too.

UPDATE: Okay, I should have noted the glaring errors in the above. The Passover ritual is traced in the Bible back to the time of Moses, which is well under 5000 years ago, and in any case the account is legendary. The festival may have originally been a spring new year celebration associated with the barley harvest, but in the form we now have it, it is firmly anchored in the story of the Exodus.

Also, the Samaritans trace themselves to the ten tribes of Israel which were exiled when the Assyrians destroyed the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE.

You can pretty much depend on journalists messing up Samaritan history and the various legendary versions of their origins. But this account of the modern Samaritan Passover ceremony is kind of cool.
INDIANA JONES is set to steal the show at the Cannes Film Festival according to the London Times:
This year for all the combined star wattage of Eastwood, Penn, Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Penélope Cruz, Benicio del Toro, Scarlett Johansson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mike Tyson and Diego Maradona, who are all expected to attend, it is the world premiere of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that is likely to stir up the biggest frenzy among the 30,000 film industry representatives who will descend on the Riviera between May 14 and May 25. Nineteen years after he last flexed his bullwhip in anger, Harrison Ford returns as the adventurous archaeologist with a fear of snakes and a flair for smart one-liners. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the first three films in the series, grossed $1.2 billion at the global box office between 1981 and 1989.

Indiana Jones’s creator and executive producer, George Lucas, and the films’ director Steven Spielberg have between them made 13 of the top 100 grossing movies. Whether they can repeat the trick with the fourth film hinges on their lead actor – who is now 65 – according to Nick James, editor of Sight and Sound magazine. “It’s about whether or not we can buy Harrison Ford still doing this stuff,” he said. “Can you revive a franchise this long after the event? Probably you can, because a lot of people won’t be able to resist.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Meanwhile, Cleveland Plain Dealer culture columnist Michael Heaton reflects on baseball and Phoenician philology:
My mind wandered between innings. I began wondering about the origin of [Cleveland] Indians second baseman's Asdrubal Cabrera first name. According to the Web site Behind the Name, it is the Spanish form of Hasdrubal, which means "Ba'al helps" from the Phoenician azru "help" combined with the name of the god Ba'al. So it means something like "god's helper." So now you know.
Sounds about right.
APOCRYPHA WATCH: The Apocrypha is quoted in a Malta travel advert:
Visit Malta and experience the Mediterranean’s first Wellness Rejuvenation Rooms at the Fortina Spa Resort. Be pampered in the Fortina Spa, dine in the Fortina's award winning restaurants and have the chance to explore Valletta and Medina.

The Wellness Rejuvenation Rooms are equipped with the latest sleep, wellbeing and fitness equipment including your personal Power Plate. At the Fortina you can experience all the fun and luxury of an All Inclusive holiday, in a stunning location and treat your body to the healthy indulgence it’s been craving.

“There are no riches above a sound body” said the Apocrypha, Ecclesiastics 30:16S.
Pretty close. The name of the book is actually Ecclessiasticus (or Sirach or Ben Sira). But I give them points for giving the full reference (even though I don't know what the "S" means).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ARAMAIC IN MALULA (Ma'aloula, Maaloula) is in danger of dying out, according to the New York Times:
In Syrian Villages, the Language of Jesus Lives

Published: April 22, 2008

MALULA, Syria — Elias Khoury can still remember the days when old people in this cliffside village spoke only Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Back then the village, linked to the capital, Damascus, only by a long and bumpy bus ride over the mountains, was almost entirely Christian, a vestige of an older and more diverse Middle East that existed before the arrival of Islam.

Now Mr. Khoury, 65, gray-haired and bedridden, admits ruefully that he has largely forgotten the language he spoke with his own mother.

“It’s disappearing,” he said in Arabic, sitting with his wife on a bed in the mud-and-straw house where he grew up. “A lot of the Aramaic vocabulary I don’t use any more, and I’ve lost it.”

Malula, along with two smaller neighboring villages where Aramaic is also spoken, is still celebrated in Syria as a unique linguistic island. In the Convent of St. Sergius and Bacchus, on a hill above town, young girls recite the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic to tourists, and booklets about the language are on sale at a gift shop in the town center.

But the island has grown smaller over the years, and some local people say they fear it will not last. Once a large population stretching across Syria, Turkey and Iraq, Aramaic-speaking Christians have slowly melted away, some fleeing westward, some converting to Islam.


Yona Sabar, a professor of Semitic languages at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that today, Malula and its neighboring villages, Jabadeen and Bakhaa, represent “the last Mohicans” of Western Aramaic, which was the language Jesus presumably spoke in Palestine two millennia ago.

Past posts on Malula are here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

MORE OBITUARIES for David Noel Freedman:


From the San Diego Union-Tribune:
David Noel Freedman; UCSD professor a legend among Bible scholars

By Sandi Dolbee


April 20, 2008

UCSD biblical scholar David Noel Freedman died April 8. He was 85 and still teaching.
In these final years, he had been bowed by age. Last June, he needed a steadying arm to make his way from his office at UCSD to a lunch meeting. But Dr. David Noel Freedman, eminent professor of history and Judaic studies, had an enthusiasm that time could not deter.

Last year, at the age of 85, he came out with a book about the Dead Sea Scrolls, a subject he had studied for more than half a century. It was, he said, the 351st book he had either co-authored or edited in his illustrious career.

He was a legend among Bible scholars. After all, he had managed to graduate from UCLA when he was only 17 and then went on to get a degree in Hebrew Bible from Princeton Theological Seminary and a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University (a colleague reports that he wrote two dissertations, both of which were later published as books).

He was a former president of the Society of Biblical Literature and editor in chief of the massive Anchor Bible Project, which consists of dozens of volumes of commentary and explanation.

So it was little wonder that tributes began spilling forth as news spread of his sudden death April 8 at a son's home in Northern California.

MORE OBITUARIES for Krister Stendahl:

From the Harvard Divinity School

From the Harvard University Gazette

From the Harvard Crimson

From the Boston Globe

Excerpt from the last:
But as a young man, training to be a priest, I read an essay published in 1963, entitled "The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West." In it, Krister Stendahl argued that Christians - at least since Martin Luther, if not since St. Augustine - had misread the testimony of that early apostle. In this misreading, St. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus was taken as rescue from a troubled preoccupation with sin and guilt, establishing the paradigm of Christian grace, which saves, against Mosaic Law, which condemns. Stendahl showed that St. Paul's conscience, instead of anguished, was "robust." His stance before God was overwhelmingly one of confidence, not terror. God's constant love, not God's threat, was Paul's driving force.

The "Introspective Conscience" article was a milestone, stimulating theological reconsiderations that put Krister Stendahl in rank with Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr. Instead of understanding St. Paul as one who had left his Jewishness behind because it was inadequate to save him from a damning Old Testament God, readers could see that Paul never thought of himself as abandoning his beloved Israel. Jesus, too, was only and forever a Jew. The Old Testament-New Testament polarity, like the Law-grace dichotomy, was false. By emphasizing Paul's commitment to Jewish-Gentile amity over the dominant reading of Paul as Israel's critic, Stendahl restored a Christian mode of respect for Judaism, a foundation stone on which a new Jewish-Christian reconciliation could be built. For the rest of his life, Stendahl was a prophet of that reconciliation.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: The book of 2 Esdras (4 Ezra) is being invoked in the discussion of race relations in the United States:
U.S. should risk an overdue dialogue on race
Shirley Stancato and John Rakolta Jr.
(Detroit News)

Discussing race is tough.

There's no getting around it. Of all the challenges that confront our nation, race relations makes just about everybody uncomfortable. But that's no reason for us to turn away from Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama's recent call for conversations on race in this country. In fact, it is all the more reason we need to accept his invitation and participate in a long-overdue national dialogue on race.

For the past five years, New Detroit has led such conversations. We've learned a lot about the best ways to make those discussions productive.


The 14th Chapter of 2nd Esdras in the Apocrypha tells us, "I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out." That is why these ongoing, good faith, sometimes heated, and sometimes painful discussions are worth it for all of us. Listening to one another can light a candle of understanding in our hearts, which shall not be put out.
The reference is 2 Esdras (4 Ezra) 14:25. Technically the book of 2 Esdras is in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, not the Old Testament Apocrypha. It is not part of the Catholic or Orthodox biblical canons, even though it is normally printed in the Apocrypha.
Heritage Sundays and Night of the Museums at Mdina and Rabat (Malta Independent)
Heritage Malta is organising another event in the popular Sunday with Heritage Malta series. The next event will be held on Sunday, 27 April and will focus on Mdina and Rabat. Through this activity, the last of the season, Heritage Malta will be giving the public the opportunity to visit the National Museum of Natural History, the Domvs Romana, St Paul’s Catacombs and the Jewish Catacombs in Rabat.


Visitors will also be able to visit the Jewish Catacombs which are not normally open to visitors. These catacombs, which are found across the road from St Paul’s Catacombs, are a complex of catacombs which contain at least six Jewish Tombs. These ancient Jewish tombs in Rabat testify to the existence of a Hellenised Jewish community on Malta in Roman times. All the tombs in the catacombs have the same plan and tomb-types, and it is often difficult to tell which are Jewish and which Christian. Some carry religious symbols and other engraved decorations, such as crosses, palm fronds, or doves with olive branches - or, in some cases, the Jewish seven-branched candlestick (menorah).

MASADA and its new museum are featured by the Toronto Star in a piece on tourist attractions for Israel's 60th birthday:
Scaling a fortress

Anyone who watches the History Channel will know the story of Masada, the tragic tale of how 960 Jews chose death by their own hands over slavery after a long siege by Roman conquerors in 73 A.D.

The 450 metre-high mountaintop fortress of King Herod, where the Jewish zealots resisted the Romans, is considered the best-preserved example of a Roman siege camp.

While already a popular tourist stop on the Dead Sea, Masada opened a new museum last year at the base of the fortress that puts the battle and subsequent archeological finds into perspective using life-sized statues and settings that invite the visitor to be part of life in Masada.

The exhibit concludes with a moving statue of Yigael Yadin, the famed archeologist who led the teams of thousands of young volunteers who excavated the site in the 1960s.

He is pictured hunched over his desk drawing his clues from ancient writings of Jewish struggle by Josephus. The three-minute cable car ride, or one-hour hike to the top via the Snake Path, is worth it, if only just for the sweeping views of the Judean desert and the Dead Sea.
THE SARAJEVO HAGGADAH has been reprinted in a new edition, thanks to "a significant interest," sparked I suspect by the new novel by Geraldine Brooks.